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Norman Reedus on ‘The Walking Dead’ Without Andrew Lincoln: ‘He’s With Me Every Day’

After saying goodbye to most of the original cast on “The Walking Dead,” Norman Reedus still feels his former co-stars with him during each episode.

“I’ve seen so many people come and go,” he said during a “Walking Dead” panel on Friday at PaleyFest. “Right now on the show, the ghosts of all those guys are with me through every frickin’ scene. I remember how tight Andy [Lincoln] and I are, how tight Scott [Wilson] and I were and Jon [Bernthal], too.”

Lincoln, who played main character Rick Grimes from the beginning of the hit AMC zombie series, departed halfway through the ninth season to spend more time with his family in England. The show is no stranger to killing off main characters, but the lead actor bowing out surprised many of his fans and cast members. During the panel, Reedus said he formed a pact with Lincoln to leave together and that he was one of the first to learn of his exit.

“He left the show in such a poetic Andrew Lincoln way,” Reedus told Variety before the panel. “He stood up and gave a speech to everyone. People pulled out their phones and he goes, ‘Everybody put down your phones, this is ours.’ That was such an Andy thing to do, such a right-on thing to do. I feel like he’s with me there every day.”

New and old cast members joined Reedus on the panel, which was moderated by comedian and “Talking Dead” host Chris Hardwick. Recently added actors Ryan Hurst, Eleanor Matsuura and Lauren Ridloff took the stage for one of their first panels, in addition to Christian Serratos and longtime writer and Season 9 showrunner Angela Kang.

Despite playing Daryl Dixon, one of the most badass and beloved characters on “The Walking Dead,” Reedus revealed he felt like an outsider among the rest of the actors on the first season.

“I came on in the third episode and the cast already knew each other. They had done press and were all super tight in the beginning. I didn’t quite know what I was going to do. I immediately got a chip on my shoulder,” he said.

Over nine seasons, the cast ballooned in size as writers killed off old characters and quickly introduced new ones. Serratos, who has played Rosita Espinosa since Season 4, met Hurst, the Season 9 villain Beta, for the first time on the day of the panel.

“It is a massive juggling act. If you look at the pictures of the cast on our walls, it wraps around because there are so many,” Kang said. “It’s also part of the fun to tell stories about diverse people from all different walks of life.”

Introduced in the ninth season, Matsuura portrays Yumiko, a queer Asian woman, and Ridloff plays Connie, a black female who is deaf.

“Isn’t that cool? I feel like it’s very real when you watch a show and you see people of different colors, ages, abilities,” Matsuura told Variety. “That’s the real world we live in. Of course we should see that on screen. I’m so grateful that those doors are finally being opened. I’m incredibly proud to be representing women, Asian women, the LGBT community. This is a big box ticked for me.”

“When I found out I was cast for the role, I was so thrilled because this has such a huge following globally. I represent so many people and show what a deaf person would actually do during the apocalypse,” Ridloff said, using American Sign Language and her interpreter Ramon Norrod. “Sometimes I’m reading comments from the fans wondering how it’s possible for a deaf person to survive the apocalypse, and I think to myself, ‘First of all, we have babies that are surviving the apocalypse.’ The show pushes boundaries in so many different ways, not just with people with disabilities, but also people of color and strong female characters. It’s setting the bar high.”

Ridloff shared that she and actress Angel Theory, who is hard of hearing, have taught some of their co-stars ASL, but 11-year-old Cailey Fleming, who plays Judith Grimes, is the most talented. They even created personalized signs for the cast, basing Reedus’ on the scar over his eye and Matsuura’s on her high cheekbones.

“The Walking Dead” airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC, and it has been renewed for another season after the Season 9 finale premieres on March 31. Three follow-up films starring Lincoln and a second spinoff series are in development.

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